Experienced Panthers have high hopes on diamond

by Matt Kraus Review Correspondent

PLYMOUTH – Replacing three senior pitchers who won 18 games in 2013 seems like it would be a significant challenge for any high school baseball team but Plymouth Panther head coach Butch Cain expresses optimism for the 2014 pitching staff.

“Five guys have varsity experience on the mound and we will go 10-deep pitching this season. Our depth and getting the right matchups will pay dividends for us,” said Cain.

Discussing the team as a whole, Cain said, “We have nine guys who played a large number of innings last year and a couple more who gained experience with the varsity squad and are ready to step in where needed.”

The Panthers won the Eastern Wisconsin Conference title last year with a 17-0-1 record and were 24- 4-1 overall, including a regional crown.

“We are looking for our core group to do more again this year and last year’s reserves to fill some needs on the mound, in the field and at the plate.”

Among the Panthers returning players are four all-state summer baseball award-winners in 2013.

Junior first baseman Zac Cain, a firstteam honoree, looks to build on his team-leading .456 batting average and 31 RBIs. He only committed one error in 2013, and contributed to the pitching staff with a team-best 0.54 ERA.

Senior shortstop Clay Henning, all-state honorable mention, offers the team a reliable leader after playing every inning in 2013. Henning brings a traditional lead-off hitter to the Panthers lineup. With a .398 batting average and a .521 on base percentage, he only had one double, triple and home run, each, but he pressured the opponent’s defense with 22 stolen bases and scored 38 runs.

Senior catcher, Luke Held, second team all-state, and junior outfielder Tyler Willeford, honorable mention all-state, bring solid offense to the Panthers with 2013 batting averages of .387 and .364, respectively, while offering solid defense. Willeford did not commit an error in 2013 and Held threw out 11 of 29 potential base stealers.

Expecting to compete for a conference championship and being the local representative at the state tournament in July, coach Cain emphasized offseason and offfield intangibles for the team.

“Our guys have a passion for the great game of baseball and most of our returning players have bought into the hard work it takes in the off-season, in preparation for the season,” he said.

“We believe we are bigger, stronger and faster this year. The guys have worked real hard on their game and we will be better because of it.”

“We have a close group of guys who work well together and this will benefit us. We will be able to stay loose and communicate in tight games and battle through the challenges that we will be presented with.”

Even with the experience the Panthers bring to the field, the freshman class offers a large number of players for the future of the program.

In discussing potential varsity playing time for a freshman player, coach Cain said, “It takes a strong mental and emotional student athlete with sound fundamentals to earn a spot on the varsity. We like Jake Steinhardt’s size and versatility as well as the other intangibles, so he has earned an opportunity to get some innings with the varsity.”

“We have a couple sophomores who might also suit up for us on occasion, or help us come tournament time,” added Cain.

Winning a second consecutive conference championship will be a challenge.

“Sheboygan Falls, Kewaskum, and Campbellsport are picked as contenders but you cannot rule out Kiel, New Holstein, and Two Rivers as they will have some surprises,” said the coach.

“All the EWC teams will be competitive when they have their best pitchers on the hill.”

June 5 – Kewaskum, here
June 6 – @ Two Rivers
June 7 – @ Waukesha West Invite
June 9 – @ New Holstein
June 10 – Kiel, here
June 12 – @ Campbellsport
June 16 – @ Sheboygan Falls
June 17 – @ Kewaskum
June 19 – New Holstein, here
June 20 – Two Rivers (2), here
June 21 – @ Brookfield Central Invite
June 24 – @ Kiel
June 25 – @ Sheboygan Legion
June 27 – @ Brookfield East
June 29 – Slinger, @ Fox Cities Stadium
June 30 – Campbellsport, here
July 1 – Sheboygan Falls, here

July 7 – Kewaskum, here
July 8 – @ New Holstein
July 9 – West Bend East, here
July 10 – @ Two Rivers
July 15 – Regional, TBA



Seniors – *Clay Henning (SS-P), *Luke Held (C-IF-P), *Luke Hojnacki (OF-IF-P), *Jake Richards (IF-P) and *Justin Picard (OF).

Juniors – *Cole Karczewski (IF-OFC), *Tyler Willeford (OF-IF-C-P), *Drew Schweiger (OF-IF-P), *Matt Olig (IF-P), *Zac Cain (IF-C-P), Alex Krueger (utility), Jack Sacket (OF-P), Cole Meyer (IF) and Austen Ramminger (utility).

Freshmen – Jake Steinhardt (utility).

* - Returning letter winner.

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